A compelling read, delicate yet powerful.
New York Times Book Review
Anita Lobel's disturbing memoir is neither sentimental nor exploitative...The memory is raw. The storytelling frames it. The message is that there is no meaning in this suffering.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Few admirers of Lobel's sunny picture book art (On Market Street) would guess at the terrors of Lobel's own childhood. Here, in beautifully measured prose, she offers a memoir that begins in 1939, when the author was five, as German soldiers march into her native Krakow; Lobel's adored father, the owner of a chocolate factory and a religious Jew, flees soon after, in the middle of the night ("He had kissed me in the night, and I did not know it"). Deportations begin, and before long the author and her younger brother (who is dressed as a girl) are sent to the country, in the care of their Niania (nanny). Thus the two children embark on years of flight, on a turbulent course involving assumed identities, blackmailers, a dangerous stay in the Krakow ghetto, concealment in a convent, capture and concentration camps. In 1945 the children are liberated, in Ravensbruck, and brought to Sweden to recuperate from what turns out to be tuberculosis, and they are eventually reunited with both parents. Lobel brings to these dramatic experiences an artist's sensibility for the telling detail, a seemingly unvarnished memory and heartstopping candor. Focused on survival, the child narrator does not pity herself or express her terror: she observes everyone keenly and cannily sizes them up. This piercing and graceful account is rewarding for readers of all ages. It may prove especially valuable for children who have graduated from Lobel's picture books and who may therefore feel they "know" her; this memoir would help such readers build a personal connection to WWII and its tragic lessons. A 12-page inset of family photos is included. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
For decades, Anita Lobel has drawn bright, richly detailed children's book illustrations. In contrast, her first novel tells her story of surviving the Holocaust. When the Nazis invaded Poland, changes began in Lobel's life. Her Hasidic father fled after "kissing her in the night" and she didn't even know he had gone. While her mother managed to survive in Krakow with false identity papers and by selling her belongings on the black market, Anita and her brother were sent into the country with their strange Catholic nurse. With her brother was disguised as a girl, Lobel was suddenly turned into a practicing Catholic, who saw her mother infrequently, and they were plunged into a world of instability. Soon after came the insanity of the camps until, finally, she was reunited with her parents in Sweden. While reading, I couldn't help thinking of the pleasure Lobel has given with her fanciful illustrations and how the raw power of her writing will please fans in a different way. 2000 (orig. 1998), Greenwillow, Ages 11 up, $16.00 and $4.99. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
This ALA Best Book and National Book Award finalist tells the true story of the childhood of Anita Lobel, the famous children's book artist. It is an amazing survival story. Anita was born in Poland in the 1930s in a Jewish family. When the Nazis marched into Poland in 1939, she was five years old and her little brother three. Their father left abruptly, leaving their mother, the little children and their devout Catholic nanny in Krakow. When the Nazis started rounding up Jews, the nanny took the little children with her into the countryside where she passed them off as her own children, with Anita's little brother disguised as a girl. The mother, surviving with false identity papers, gave them small things to sell to keep them fed. They kept alive in those early years of war, and when endangered, they sought refuge in a convent, still disguised. Even there the Jews weren't safe: Nazi soldiers came to arrest the Jewish children and haul them in cattle cars to the camps, and Anita and her brother were ripped apart from their nanny. In the camps, they were very ill, but fortunately, they were liberated before they died, and were taken to Sweden to recover after the war ended. The years Anita lived in Sweden, even the two years spent recovering from TB in a sanatorium, were happy ones; she could attend school for the first time in her life and learn about the wider world. It was in Sweden that she discovered her love of art, and her wonderful talent. Amazingly, she and her brother survived the war, thanks to their nanny's love and devotion to them; and eventually the whole family was reunited in Sweden before moving on to the US as refugees when Anita was 17 years old. There are no prettypictures here, it's true, but we do come away with wonder at the resilience of children and at Anita Lobel's great skill with words and her unsentimental understanding of a child's thoughts and feelings. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
Children's Literature - Judy Silverman
Anita Lobel was five when the Nazis took over Poland. She and her brother, posing as a girl (the only way to hide his Jewishness), spent the war years in hiding-first in the country with their nurse, then in a convent. When they were caught, they were sent to a series of concentration camps. After the war, the Red Cross sent them to Sweden where Anita began to recover. In the U.S. since she was a teenager, Anita has spent her life making pictures and has never gone back. Nor has she ever looked back, until now. Her story is a fascinating look at a terrible time. None of us should ever discount a child's view, and none of us should ever forget what the children of war went through, and still go through. A highly recommended book.
VOYA - Patricia J. Morrow
Lobel is familiar to readers through her award-winning stories and illustrations for children. This is a memoir of the pictures of her past-never discussed before. Lobel and her younger brother survived day-to-day life in Nazi-occupied Poland then Montelupi prison, Plaszow, and Ravensbruck, and recovery in Sweden. She tells her story in a simple, matter-of-fact voice, beginning in 1939 when she was five and Poland was invaded. Given into the care of devout Catholic "Niania," the children pretend to be Catholic. They roam and survive as best they can with little help, but eventually are imprisoned. Moved to Plaszow they meet relatives and some of the guards give them quality shelter, food, toilets, and baths. Transported to Ravensbruck their better health deteriorates quickly. When the Allies arrive, Anita and her brother are sent to a sanatorium in Sweden, both having contracted tuberculosis. Swedish becomes Anita's daily language and she thrives on the special care. In 1947, Anita and her brother learn that their parents and Niania are alive. Anita has recovered and is sent to a shelter for Polish refugees where she has her first formal schooling, but is not yet ready to admit to being Jewish. Eventually, their parents arrive and the family moves to Stockholm until emigrating to the United States when Anita is sixteen. While many Holocaust survivors are telling their stories, this one suits the young adult audience. Anyone old enough to read about Anne Frank should read Lobel's memoir. There is no sense of fiction in her story and the emotions and realities of a young child ring true. The simplicity of her narration and the precise nature of her recollections fill readers with the awe of her survival-and amazement at her having kept the story inside for so long and now sharing it with us. This title was nominated for the 1998 National Book Award for Young Adults. Photos. VOYA Codes: 5Q 5P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
decades of fanciful Lobel illustrations that I have admired and how she's spent a good part of her life pleasing fans with her pretty pictures. The raw power of her writing will please admirers in a different way. Her story is a tribute to her courage in the past and in the present.
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-Lobel has written a haunting, honest, and ultimately life-affirming account of her childhood years in Nazi-occupied Poland. Born in Krakow to an affluent Jewish family, she and her younger brother were cared for by their nanny ("Niania"), a devout Catholic. Lobel was five when the Nazis arrived in Poland and her father left in the middle of the night. As the situation worsened, Niania took the children into hiding in the countryside while their mother remained in the city with fake identification papers. As the war continued, the siblings were hidden in various places, relying mostly on Niania to care for them, at great risk to herself. When Lobel and her brother were captured, Niania arranged to have the children delivered into the care of relatives inside the concentration camp at Plaszow. At the end of the war, Lobel, then 11, and her brother were sent to Sweden as refugees, where she thrived at a convalescent home while recovering from tuberculosis and was reunited with her parents. She ends the story with her family's emigration to the United States. The author's words are simple and straightforward, even when she describes the horror of life in the camp or the fear and loneliness of being separated from her family and nanny. This is a worthy addition to memoirs of war such as Esther Hautzig's The Endless Steppe (Hall, 1968) and Yoko Kawashima Watkins's So Far from the Bamboo Grove (Lothrop, 1986).-Carol Fazioli, The Brearley School, New York City, NY
. . .[D]isturbing. . .neither sentimental nor exploitative. . . .The memory is raw. . . .The message is that there is no meaning in this suffering. -- The New York Times Book Review
A haunting look back by Lobel, a Polish Jew who 'was born far, far away, on a bloody continent at a terrible time.' Lobel writes of her life as a young girl, who 'was barely five years old when the war began.' She and her three-year-old brother did not understand when her father disappeared in 1939 (to Russia, she later learned), but very soon they understood the words 'transported, deported, concentration camp and liquidation.' Taken from a Benedictine convent that sheltered Jewish children, Lobel and her brother (by then, ten and eight) were first in Montelupi Prison, then in Ravensbruck, where they were sick with lice, diarrhea, and tuberculosis. They were rescued and sent to Sweden to regain their health and eventually to be united with their parents. This is an inexpressibly sad book about a young girl who missed her childhood, yet survived to say that her life 'has been good. I want more.'
Read an Excerpt
No Pretty Pictures
A Child of War
From our balcony on a September day a long time ago, I watched the Germans march into the city where we lived. They stepped in unison, in shiny boots, with sunlight glinting on helmets and bouncing off bayonets. They sang a marching song. I did not understand the words that echoed between the buildings. Pushing my head through the bars of our crowded balcony to see the soldiers better, I held on tightly to my niania's (nanny's) hand. "Niemcy, Niemcy" ("Germans, Germans"), she muttered and sighed. My mother and father were there, and many other people. "No! No! They are French!" I heard people say. "Surely they must be French." It was a warm, and beautiful day. There was music and promise in the air.
The back of the large apartment building where we lived faced a square courtyard. Here balconies were long walkways that extended the whole length of the building. We sometimes saw our neighbor, a Hasid, in his long black coat and round saucerlike hat edged in fur, rushing by our back windows on his way to the elevator. He turned comers, his beard flying in the wind. "Jews!" I would hear Niania mutter.
My father was the owner of a chocolate factory. He was not a Hasid. But every morning he wrapped his head in thin black leather straps that ended in a small square box that rested on his forehead. The ends of the straps were tied around his wrists. He put a white shawl with black stripes around his shoulders and faced a window that led to the back balcony.. He mumbled and rocked back and forth. Under the leather straps on his head he wore a tight hairnet clasped on the side with a buckle.After he finished his mumblings, he unwrapped the straps, kissed them, and wound them back into the box he had taken off his head. He went to another room and came out elegantly dressed in a fine gray suit with a white shirt, a tie, and a boutonniere in his lapel. His hair was beautifully slicked down. He wore shiny black shoes and often spats. He smelled nice when he kissed me good-bye.
Then, one morning, he was gone and did not come back. He had kissed me in the night, and I did not know it. I looked for his shoes. I could not find his smell, and I cried.
One afternoon that October I was standing by the window that looked out on the courtyard. Something happened. I don't know how it happened. I did not see the beginning of it. Niania cried: "Don't look! Don't look!" She tried to pull me away from the window. "Come away from there!" Six floors below an open window facing our part of the building, several people were surrounding something on the ground. I could see a dark liquid slowly appear on the cement courtyard. Without really knowing, I knew what all this was.
Whenever I ran and fell, banging my head, a black smell curled around in my head. No, even before, before the pain really began. Before I had had time to burst into my childish wail, an oily pungency flushed the inside of my head and spread through my mouth and my nostrils.
Once, before the German soldiers had even come, I had been walking with Niania in the middle of the city, near a place called the Rondel. Into this remaining part of a medieval tower surrounded by a waterless moat, two motorcyclists had crashed. The railing had been bent and broken in several places. I saw no bodies. But before Niania hurried me away, I had seen the dark, dark red pools of liquid in the moat. There had been the noise that sirens and policemen and droszki (horse-drawn carriages) and horses made. And in my head there had been the smell of it all.
The shape on the ground of our courtyard had been covered. The edges of the blanket fanned out neatly. The puddle of blackish red liquid that slowly seeped out from under the blanketed mound was growing larger. A high-heeled shoe had fallen off one foot that could just barely be seen under the covering. And that smell was in my head again.
A blue late-afternoon sky cradled the roofs of my Eastern European city when Niania closed the drapes.
A little later I sneaked back to the window. It was dark now. I could no longer see a stain. There was no blanket on the ground. The shoe was gone. The courtyard was empty. There was nothing. No Pretty Pictures
A Child of War. Copyright � by Anita Lobel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.